суббота, 3 ноября 2012 г.

My Talking Cat

By Alice Marks

Lots of people talk to animals.... Not very many listen, though.... That's the problem.
~Benjamin Hoff, The Tao of Pooh

Home alone, I curled up in a chair to read Mary Higgins Clark's Pretend You Don't See Her. Actually alone is not accurate. Two days earlier we'd adopted a three-year-old female cat alternately striped in shades of brown, black, and orange. Sweet Martha, as we christened her, now hid under the bed in the guest room.
Understanding a new cat's need for privacy, we provided her necessities near the bed. A note from a foster parent had accompanied our kitty: "I would have kept her because she's a sweetheart, but I already have four cats and this one is too vocal." So far, this cat with the mouthy reputation hadn't uttered a syllable.

Then I heard, in a perfect rendition of Joan Rivers' voice, "Hal-lo!" I looked down and saw Sweet Martha sitting by my chair. During my lifetime, I'd enjoyed countless cat companions, but I couldn't believe I had one that talked! I tried to coax her into my lap for a long conversation, but she slipped back into hiding.

I couldn't wait to tell my husband Sam about our talking cat, though I know he'd wonder if I'd been into the catnip while he'd been out. As soon as he arrived, Sweet Martha met him with another "Hal-lo."

Sam rewarded her with a dollop of whipped cream, which she lapped up with obvious pleasure. I phoned our daughter Susan, who lived in a nearby town.

"Guess what, Susan! We have a new cat and she talks! Both Dad and I have heard her!"

"That's nice," she said. Our daughter spoke in a condescending tone that indicated she thought her mother was becoming dotty. She humored me by saying, "I'm pretty busy right now, but I'll come over as soon as I can to meet your..." she cleared her throat, "talking cat."

Sweet Martha couldn't pronounce the letter "S" so Sam was "Am." My name, Alice, came out "Ai-eee." I guess she couldn't manage the "C," though we knew she could produce an "L."

When my daughter finally stopped by, she displayed doubt with tone of voice and choice of words.

"So, you're the so-called 'talking cat'?" she muttered, bending down to pet Martha. The cat ducked this intruder's hand, but responded with a great big "Hal-lo!"

Susan, totally amazed, responded, "She sounds just like Joan Rivers!"

We tried to get her to say "Susan" or call us by the names she'd given us, but Martha stalked off. She let us know that she refused to perform on demand.

Her speaking vocabulary peaked at three English words, yet she showed disdain at our lack of linguistic ability. She seemed to think we were the stupidest creatures on earth because we couldn't understand her when she spoke "Cat."

She'd beg each morning — in Cat — for her cream, then demanded to go outside. She made friends with all the neighbors in our cul-de-sac. Though our city prohibited cats from roaming free, we could not convince Martha, who had been a stray, to comply with this regulation.

We feared neighbors might call Animal Control to capture her while she squatted in their flowerbeds instead of her litter box. Instead she befriended everyone by sharing long discourses in Cat, as she looked each listener in the eye. More than one neighbor commented that he or she had never heard a cat "talk" so much. Some she greeted with "Hal-lo," but mostly she saved that for newcomers to our home.

She became a favorite among the neighborhood children and received invitations to every First Communion and birthday party on the block. Most she refused, preferring to pop into a child's house on her own with a continuous stream of her feline chatter.

When not visiting, Martha hunted birds of all varieties and squirrels that outweighed her. Though we tried to discourage her hunting, she left morning offerings on our porch. One spring the whole neighborhood experienced an invasion of voles. People stuffed mothballs, peanut butter and chewing gum in the unsightly mounds that dotted our pristine suburban lawns. Nothing dissuaded the critters. Martha took matters into her own paws. She began leaving dead varmints on neighbors' porches as well as ours. Even those who didn't really like the garrulous little cat became her fans.

Many volunteered to give Martha a home when we retired from Minnesota to South Texas, but we couldn't leave her behind. For once she didn't utter a sound as she experienced traveling by plane.

Due to the hungry coyote population in our new location, we concluded Martha must convert to Indoor Catism. This new confining life made our cat and us, by extension, miserable. We had deprived her of her favorite activities — hunting and visiting neighbors. She voiced her displeasure loudly. We stood firm until the day I felt so sorry for her, I brought her out to the upper balcony for some fresh sea air. In a flash, she walked down the side of the house — three stories to the yard! Before I could make my way down two flights of stairs, she had removed tail feathers from a seagull and was chasing a lizard in the yard next door.

We gave up. Knowing by now that she did understand every word we spoke, we explained the perils of coyotes. We promised her that we would allow her outside under this condition: she needed to abide by the 8:00 p.m. curfew or become a coyote's supper.

For all the days of her life in Texas, Martha showed up on the front porch at exactly 8:00 p.m. Post-Martha we now share our home with two other adopted cats. Unlike their amazing predecessor, neither has spoken a word of English to us.

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